Metulla residents will launch an indefinite general strike Thursday to press for a government commitment that any cross-border attacks after the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon will be answered with severe retaliation, reported Jerusalem Post the same day.
This retaliation, they said, should include "wiping out" Lebanese villages from which enemy fire originates.
All schools and kindergartens in the town are to close and residents intend to pitch protest tents along the line where the security fence is slated to be relocated after the scheduled pullback to the 1923 international boundary.
Dubi Amitai, Lt.-Col at reserve forces and a Metulla resident and one of the organizers of the protest, said it was the first time he could recall citizens of the town, which abuts the Lebanese border, taking such action.
"We are demanding that Prime Minister [Ehud] Barak come to us and make a public commitment that any attacks on northern communities will be met with the kind of response that will deter any future breaches of the peace - even if this means wiping out the village from which the attacks originated," Amitai said.
"At the moment we have no guarantees whatsoever that we will be protected after the proposed withdrawal, particularly after the ineffectual response to Hizbollah’s recent Katyusha rocket attacks."
St.-Sgt. Maj. Shaked Ozeri, 24, of the village of Elyachin near Hadera, was killed in one of the rocket attacks last Thursday and Friday. More than 30 other people - most of them residents of Kiryat Shmona and Shlomi, in Western Galilee - were lightly wounded or had to be treated for shock.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister David Levy will meet in New York today with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to discuss the impending IDF pullout from Lebanon and a report on the border issue by UN envoy Terje Larsen following his tour of the region last week, according to the paper – Albawaba.com
Also expected to be on the agenda is Israel's possible inclusion in the Western European grouping at the UN, known as WEOG. Levy also will meet with European diplomats during his four-day trip to discuss the WEOG issue.
On Sunday, Levy will address the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and meet with various Israeli diplomats stationed in the US. On Monday he will meet with the US representative to the UN, Richard Holbrooke.
Fighting in south Lebanon continued over Independence Day with several long-range attacks on IDF and South Lebanese Army outposts. An SLA soldier lightly wounded in one of the attacks was treated at the scene and later transferred to Bint J'bail Hospital in the security zone.
Reports from Lebanon said Hizbullah gunmen fired mortars, anti-tank missiles, artillery shells, and rounds from recoilless rifles at a number of positions throughout the zone. The attacks caused damage at an IDF position in the western sector, but no other casualties. IDF and SLA gunners returned fire.
On Tuesday, IAF warplanes struck at Hizbullah targets in the Jabal Shaffi region in the eastern sector, north of the zone.
Metulla's Amitai, who said he served on numerous occasions in south Lebanon as a battalion commander and reserve officer, charged that the IDF's hands were being tied in the face of Hizbullah aggression.
He stressed that residents of Metulla, Kiryat Shmona, Shlomi, and other communities along the northern border were no longer prepared to be cannon fodder for terrorists operating from Lebanon.
He added that the relocation of the security fence to the 1923 international border would bring the line to within several meters of homes in Metulla and endanger city residents. In such circumstances, the army would not have enough time to respond to infiltration attempts before terrorists reached the nearest houses, Amitai said.
Metulla residents are demanding that the fence be constructed at least a few hundred meters from their homes. They also demand appropriate defensive measures and a clear-cut directive from the government for the IDF to retaliate with all its force to attacks emanating from Lebanon on Israeli territory or its citizens.
"We are also demanding a meeting in Metulla with the prime minister before any decisions are implemented regarding our future security, safety, and welfare," Amitai said.
The Metulla residents' strike is being supported by the local council headed by Ya'acov Katz, who also has expressed concern over what the future holds for the region in light of the withdrawal plans.
Amitai, who is chairman of the farmers' association in Metulla, said that as a family man with a wife and three children, whose home could be in the future firing line, he was more than just concerned.
In Beirut, Lebanese Prime Minister Selim Hoss said Tuesday that SLA commander Gen. Antoine Lahad must surrender to authorities to stand trial for treason before demanding amnesty for his men.
"It is strange that Antoine Lahad is asking the president for a general amnesty while he is still carrying out attacks alongside the enemy of his country, against civilians of his country, and sometimes does not spare the army of his country," Hoss said in a statement.
On Monday, Lahad appealed to Lebanese President Emile Lahoud to grant his followers a general amnesty similar to a 1991 pardon of militiamen across Lebanon for most crimes committed during the devastating 1975-90 civil war.
Barak expressed support for Lahad's demands in an interview with Israel Radio.
"We of course feel responsible to see that the issue of the SLA is resolved in a way that befits their deep connection with the State of Israel," Barak said.
In his appeal Monday, Lahad maintained that he alone bore responsibility for the actions of his 2,500 fighters, but he did not indicate whether he would be willing to stand trial after the IDF pullout. A retired Lebanese army general, Lahad was sentenced to death in absentia in 1996 after being found guilty of treason by a Beirut military court.
Apparently seeking to assure Lahad that he would get a fair trial, Hoss said Lebanese officials do not harbor feelings of "revenge or gloating."
Lahad has said he would stay on in Marjayoun despite speculation that he would leave for France, where his family lives.
In a separate development, Barak surprised the residents of Shlomi Tuesday night, helicoptering into town to join the Independence Day celebrations.
"Our being here together now is the lasting proof that nothing will batter the spirits of wonderful people in Shlomi and in the whole region," Barak told the residents. "We are stronger and we are not afraid."
In Cairo, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak yesterday and also with Larsen, who was there to discuss the IDF withdrawal from Lebanon and the stationing of UN troops along the border.
Arafat "used the opportunity to raise his concern for the Palestinian refugees in the camps in south Lebanon," a senior PA official said.
The chairman wants assurances that Lebanon will not attempt to disarm Arafat loyalists and replace them with pro-Syrian factions. Lahoud has asked the UN to disarm Palestinian refugees.
One PA official said the PA may ask the UN to extend its mandate to protect the refugees. So far the UN role is limited to protecting the border, he added.
Palestinian Legislative Council Speaker Ahmed Qurei recently visited France and asked the French to intervene on behalf of the refugees, PA sources said.
"The peace process is our priority, we do not want to get involved in any of the fighting in south Lebanon," one PA minister said. Mubarak has been passing the Palestinians' message to the Lebanese and the Syrians.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)